IT’S BEEN hailed enthusiastically by various Khmer promotional agencies as one of the most exciting recent add-ons to Angkor temple tourism.
On paper it sounds great: A charming boat ride along a temple moat and a stop-off at a little known temple, all in a replica of the craft that used to ply these very same waters almost 1000 years ago during the Angkorian period.
But in practice the boat rides, as yet, don’t deliver the full deal. Angkor Gondola Boat Services, which offers the rides, has been operating since July 2010, but falls short of its promotional promises.
Operating at the temples north of Siem Reap, along the moat surrounding the Angkor Thom wall, it is an expensive ride – foreigners are charged $15 each and Khmers pay an all-in boat-hire fee of $20.
The service provides regular boats that can fit up to four people. For travellers with more cash, a VIP boat can be hired which fits two people at an undisclosed price with soft drinks and rice apparently included.
A temple pass is also required.
According to Angkor Gondola Boat Services operations manager Ly Sam Oeun, the boats are called “kongkear Angkor”, with kongkear meaning water in Khmer. He says the boat designs were copied from royal family vessels depicted on Angkor Wat wall reliefs.
The Cambodia Tourism Magazine says the original royal family boats could load about 15 to 21 people, whereas these smaller replicas can fit only a maximum of four. The replica boats measure 7m in length and 1.2m in width, and feature a hamsa aquatic bird at the front, with the tail at the back.
The new tourist boats depart from two ports. The Prasat Bei port is 200m west from the Angkor Thom south gate. The second location is at Takao port, at the Angkor Thom west gate. Both trips are supposed to travel along the water to the southwest point of the Angkor Thom wall but the boat I hired didn’t travel this route at all.
I was originally told that the boat stops for about 20 minutes at the Trasat Chhrung temple on the south west corner of the Angkor Thom compound.
But during my ride, there was no temple stop. This, I was informed later, is because there are no stairs to allow passengers to leave the boat and see the temple.
The company says that soon there will be stairs and access, but neglected to tell me this before I paid for the journey.
“The stair area is currently being inspected by Apsara,” Ly Sam Oeun says. “I think it will take one week to be approved by Apsara, and then the stairs will take one week to set up. It should be done by the end of the month.”
Consequently, the journey I was taken on was very much truncated and lasted only 45 minutes. Plus, the scenery was a little monotonous, with most of the Angkor Thom wall obscured by trees.
However, a sunset trip at 4:30pm proved a soothing time of day for a boat journey, as well as a relaxing break from the tourists who roam the temples en masse. The tranquillity of the evening air was shattered by the sounds of cicadas in the trees, which collectively made a rather deafening noise. But I soon got used to it, meaning the chirping of birds, dragonflies flying alongside and a beautiful sunset ensured a pleasant experience.
Angkor Gondola can be contacted by telephone on +855 (0)63 6550655.